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At first glance, the Apologia Exploring Creation Young Explorer books look like standard hardcover textbooks for the elementary grades. They’re nicely printed with full-color illustrations. But the focus on a narrow area of science for each text and the methods of lesson presentation make these significantly different from standard texts.
The Astronomy, Botany, and Human Anatomy and Physiology volumes, with 176 pages each, address only those topics, digging much deeper into each than is possible in a typical textbook that aims to cover many different topics. Zoology 1 teaches about flying creatures (birds, bats, flying reptiles, and insects) in its 240 pages. Zoology 2 covers only creatures that live in water (235 pages), while Zoology 3 (288 pages) tackles various orders of land animals including reptiles, amphibians, spiders, insects, worms, gastropods, and dinosaurs.
The Young Explorers series is clearly Christian in outlook, continually reaffirming God’s role as creator. Occasionally, evolutionary beliefs are addressed directly, but these texts mostly take a positive approach of teaching truth rather than attacking evolution.
Author Jeannie Fulbright writes as if she is chatting with her children, so the writing style is very conversational and personal.
This series uses an “immersion approach,” emphasizing depth over breadth with information, activities, writing, field trips, experiments, and other avenues to immerse the student deeply into each topic. Students gather enough information on each topic to begin to appreciate science, ask deeper questions, and look for applications.
Regarding methodology, Charlotte Mason’s ideas are most evident in the use of narration. Periodically, after a section of text there will be a narration prompt written in italics such as “Explain what you have learned about flight muscles and birds in flight” (Zoology 1, p. 61)....
“What Do You Remember?” questions at the end of each chapter help to assess whether or not children are grasping the information. Parents can require students to write out answers or respond orally. Answer keys are at the back of each book.
To keep things interesting, the text is also broken up with “Try This!” activities. These are generally fairly simple activities in contrast to the full-fledged experiments with data recording and the projects that come at the end of each chapter. Two of the projects for each course are actually term projects. Term projects as well as some of the other experiments and projects are quite involved, but they don’t require esoteric resources. Lists of the necessary resources are at the front of each book, shown chapter by chapter, making it easy to plan ahead....At the front of each text is a reproducible “Scientific Speculation Sheet” to be used for applying scientific method and recording experiment information.
One other unusual aspect of this course is the creation of a notebook. Students can either use an Apologia Notebooking Journal or a binder to collect their notes, drawings, and records of experiments, projects, and field trips....
Notebooking Journals are hefty (about 200 pages each), plastic-spiral-bound books that actually become the student’s notebook. While it is certainly fine if you want to create your own notebooks with resources from the website and elsewhere, these Notebooking Journals make the process much easier.
The Notebooking Journals include a number of activities and resources for each lesson....
Younger students with less developed writing skills should probably use the new Junior Notebooking Journals for each course. These require less writing, have fewer crossword puzzles with vocabulary that might be too difficult, and omit the written review questions and final reviews. They add two more coloring pages per lesson and primary-level writing lines to make the shorter writing assignments easier.
The resulting notebooks, whether the standard or junior versions, will have much more content than could be compiled into a lapbook. If you would rather have children create lapbooks, both Knowledge Box Central (www.knowledgeboxcentral.com) and A Journey Through Learning (www.ajourneythroughlearning.com) sell lapbooks that correlate with these textbooks. (Check either website to see what lapbooks look like.)
The intended audience is probably my biggest area of concern with the textbooks. The books are written at a reading level well beyond that of children in the primary grades. The texts include Latin and scientific names, sometimes including explanations of word derivations. There seems to be even more of this in Botany and Zoology 1 than in the other books. While this should be fine for students in the middle grades, it might be too much information for younger students....Parents will likely read the text aloud to younger students, while older students can do much of their reading and work independently.
An added bonus with each course is a password to a dedicated website with extra helpful tools for each course....
Watch for forthcoming audio book CDs for each of the Young Explorer courses. These will soon be available as downloadable files, MP3 files on CDs, or audio CDs.
Overall, there is more activity and variety in these courses than in traditional textbooks. The format makes it easy for parents to provide an excellent balance of information and activity that should be very effective for science instruction in the elementary grades.